Peaceful getaway

HISTORIC RELIC

 GLORIOUS PAST (Clockwise from  above) The Peace Pagoda; Ashoka Pillar near the pagoda; statue of the sleeping Buddha inside the pagoda in Dhauligiri Hills, Orissa. Photos by authorLocated about eight kilometers south of Orissa’s capital Bhubaneswar, the dazzling white pagoda on the bank of River Daya has already emerged as one of the major attractions for tourists visiting Orissa.

“The Dhauli Shanti Stupa has certainly emerged as a major tourist attraction along with the Jagannath Temple in Puri, the Sun Temple at Konark, and the temple of Lingaraj in Bhubaneswar. We hope it will continue to attract more tourists in the coming years,” said Orissa Minister for Tourism and Culture, Debiprasad Mishra.

What attracts tourists to this popular Buddhist site is its fascinating past. It was Dhauligiri where the famous Kalinga war of 261 BC, waged between the mighty forces of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka and the brave soldiers of Kalinga (erstwhile Orissa), was fought.

The die-hard warriors of Kalinga lost the fierce battle to their far more potent opponents, but not before giving the invading Mauryan forces a courageous fight. That is still being talked about in the history books as one of the bloodiest battles in Indian history.

The large-scale bloodshed following the killing of more than 1,50,000 Kalinga soldiers — as stated in some history books, the water of River Daya had turned into a river of blood — completely shattered the all powerful Mauryan emperor who watched the horrifying battle sitting atop Dhauli Hills where the Peace Pagoda now stands. It transformed him from a Chandashoka (angry Ashoka) to a Dharmashoka (the religious Ashoka). He renounced the path of violence and embraced Buddhism to preach peace and non-violence and spread the teachings of Gautam Buddha across the globe.

According to historians, a couple of rock edicts on the Dhauli Hills, engraved by Ashoka soon after the famous war, shed light on the miraculous transformation of a great war-loving monarch from a ruthless warrior to a benevolent soul. Post war, he was keen to dedicate his life towards preaching non-violence and spreading the message of peace and brotherhood.

The white coloured Peace Pagoda or Shanti Stupa, which stands near the rock edicts, can be seen from the National Highway that connects Bhubaneswar with the temple town of Puri. Built in 1972 by two organisations — Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha in Orissa and the Japan-based Japan Buddha Sangha — the beautiful concrete structure is now being maintained by a non-governmental Buddhist association. There is also a Hindu temple near the stupa which is being maintained by the state government through its Archaeological Department.

However, the two rock edicts engraved by Ashoka are being preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The Central Government agency has constructed a glass and iron enclosure around the edicts to save the historic monument from decay.

“The writings engraved on the rocks had started fading as tourists were regularly touching them. Therefore, a glass enclosure has been designed around the monument to save it from further decay. Tourists can see the edicts through glass,” the watchman guarding the two rocks said.

The ASI has also developed a beautiful park near the rock edicts. Apart from the historic importance of the place, an added attraction of Dhauligiri Hills is its peaceful and calm atmosphere that often makes tourists wonder if it was really the site where Kalinga war was fought. “It is hard to believe that such a calm and peaceful spot was witness to one of the bloodiest battles in the annals of Indian history. It is definitely ironic,” said Ashis Biswas, a tourist from Bihar.

The growing popularity of the Buddhist site has prompted the government of Orissa to embark on a six crore rupee special project for the development of Dhauligiri Hills and its adjoining areas. The government is also planning to introduce a light and sound system to highlight the Kalinga war and its aftermath. “It will help tourists understand the importance of the spot better,” said Mishra.

The state government has already constructed an Ashoka pillar on the Dhauli foothills in memory of soldiers who were killed in that historic battle.

Besides, the Orissa government has also taken up a 30 crore rupee road project to connect Dhauligiri directly with Khandagiri Hills, located on the opposite end of Bhubaneswar city. Khandagiri Hills are famous for their historic caves which also attract a large number of tourists. The Tourism Department is also contemplating on giving a facelift to the panthika (rest house) near Dhauligiri which is expected to provide the visiting tourists a place to relax while on a day-long trip. With these infrastructural initiatives, the state government is hopeful of attracting more number of tourists to the Peace Pagoda. “At present, on an average, about 1,000 tourists visit the Shanti Stupa everyday. We are hopeful of increasing it five-fold very soon,” said the minister.

The state government has also been providing financial support to two local non-governmental cultural organisations to stage dance festivals on the Dhauligiri Hills — specifically in front of the Peace Pagoda — every winter. One dance festival, Dhauli Mahotsava, primarily showcases different Indian dance forms like Odissi and Kathakali, while the other, Kalinga Martial Dance Festival, displays martial dance forms from different states. Both the festivals have been fast gaining popularity.

However, the state government’s ambitious plan to turn the Dhauli Peace Pagoda into a major tourist hub may hit a roadblock if it does not initiate steps to check the occasional law and order problem in the hills and nearby areas. In the past, there were instances of attacks on tourists, particularly foreigners, to loot their belongings. A clash between some local persons and members of a Buddhist group was also recently reported from this area. Perhaps, more vigilant policing will safeguard tourists visiting the wonderful historic spot.

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